Wyoming Liberty Group
A Tour of the Laramie County Juvenile Services Center
Earlier this year, after being contacted by Tim Thorson, I toured the Juvenile Services Center in Laramie County. Mr. Thorson is a member of the Laramie County Community Juvenile Services Joint Powers Board, which oversees many aspects of the Juvenile Services Center. Upon our arrival, Mr. Thorson introduced me to Captain Michael Sorensen, who is in charge of the law enforcement aspects of the Center.
After many months of researching Wyoming’s juvenile justice system, and learning about its problems, it was heartening to learn of the intensely personal effort of a group of people striving to improve the long-term opportunities for some of Wyoming’s most at-risk juveniles. Captain Sorensen was quite proud of the fact that every juvenile attends a form of school for eight hours each day, Monday through Friday. Although we did not take a thorough tour of the school rooms, it appears all school work is performed on computers and the facility has enough computers for one to be assigned to each detainee. School material is provided by Laramie County School District 1 while most instruction and supervision is provided by the JSC guards instead of teachers.
When not in school, detainees can read, play approved games with supervision and exercise at approved times in the small recreation area. Detainees do not spend any of their time doing assigned chores. The philosophy is to keep them busy and out of their “sleeping rooms,” a JSC euphemism for their cells. Interestingly, because of strict adherence to child labor laws, juvenile detainees cannot be required–or even permitted—to perform any chores beyond cleaning their own rooms and the area of the hallway from the cells to the common areas. Detainees are not permitted to clean the common areas.
One thing that struck me during our tour was that the detainees appeared to be very young. Captain Sorensen acknowledged this and even mentioned an eleven-year-old Hispanic boy who had spent several months of 2013 incarcerated at the JSC. Through a buddy system, the JSC cadre assigned the youngster to buddy with a seventeen-year-old female detainee. The thought was that she would act as a surrogate big sister or babysitter and help shelter the young boy from some of the other detainees.
After our tour, I found myself with mixed opinions about the Laramie County JSC. From Captain Sorensen to the guard who comes in on weekends to teach kids how to iron and fold clothes, every cadre member at the JSC seems genuinely dedicated to making conditions better for these juveniles. Nevertheless, eleven-year-olds are incarcerated in the same small facility as seventeen-year-old violent repeat offenders. The Wyoming Juvenile Risk Assessment indicates that some children should be released to their parents, yet this is regularly ignored in favor of mass incarcerations. It is also of concern that boys and girls of different ethnicities receive vastly different sentences for the same offenses when they are sent to the JSC. These facts and many more should not be ignored any more than the efforts of the JSC cadre.
At the end of the day, these juveniles are tucked into their locked cells by caring guards who are bound by Wyoming’s broken juvenile justice system. In the future, we will use the data provided by the JSC to provide you with an accurate picture of life for juvenile offenders incarcerated in Laramie County.